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Loveland Selected for South Dakota Hall of Fame

Former Chief Scientist's contributions as head of Landsat Science Team, commitment to education recognized

color photograph of Tom Loveland
Thomas Loveland, former Chief Scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Earth Resources Observation and Science Center near Sioux Falls, SD.(Public domain.)

Recently retired EROS Chief Scientist Tom Loveland has been selected for enshrinement in the South Dakota Hall of Fame.

“I think it’s very cool,” Loveland said of learning that he is among 10 inductees who will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame on Sept. 7-8 in Chamberlain. SD. “Obviously, you never anticipate something like this happening to you. But it certainly is an honor I appreciate very much.”

Loveland is being recognized under the professional category as a geographer and remote-sensing scientist who developed a reputation as one of the nation’s foremost experts on the use of remote sensing to monitor and measure changes on the Earth’s land surface. In a letter of support for Loveland’s nomination, Boston University Professor Curtis Woodcock told the selection committee that his friend and Landsat Science Team colleague is “without any hesitation or room for debate … the world’s leading expert on land cover and land cover mapping and monitoring in the United States.”

It’s noted in Loveland’s nomination application for the Hall of Fame that his leadership of the Landsat Science Team contributed to the decision to make Landsat data free and open to the world in 2008. The explosion of remote-sensing science and research that followed provided the United States the most comprehensive characterization of land cover and land cover change available anywhere in the world, the application said.

In the 1990s, Loveland led an International Geosphere Biosphere Programme global land cover initiative that resulted in the first remote-sensing based, validated global land cover characteristics data base. That resulted in research results used extensively in Earth system and meteorological models, carbon cycle assessments, and many other environmental investigations.

And in bestowing the Department of Interior’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, on Loveland in 2015, Secretary Sally Jewell noted that his transformation of science and technical information into usable knowledge for decision makers, resource managers, and program executives had resulted in fundamental connections across the planet.

Loveland also had a significant impact on his home state, according to his nomination application. In 2003, he helped to establish and co-direct the USGS-South Dakota State University Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence. That center conducts international and in-state research programs aimed at both educating the next generation of remote-sensing scholars, but also investigating major scientific and environmental challenges.

In his 38-year career at EROS, Loveland assisted in helping roughly 70 SDSU Department of Geography alumni secure work as remote-sensing scientists and administrators at EROS. He taught numerous classes at SDSU, and those Department of Geography students went on to careers at the CIA, NSA, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Census, National Park Service, and more.

It’s interesting to note that while numerous South Dakota Hall of Fame inductees played key roles in helping to establish the EROS Center—people like Sen. Karl Mundt, for whom the EROS building is named; South Dakota Congressman Ben Reifel; and Sioux Falls businessman Al Schock—Loveland appears to be the first selection so recognized for his career at the Center.

Among the global and national EROS community of talented scientists, engineers, and support staff, Loveland said he takes particular pride in the significant contributions of homegrown South Dakotans who come from such communities as Roscoe and Menno, Irene and Brandon, Ethan and Salem. Even here in his hometown of Sioux Falls.

That work and those contributions have likely gone unnoticed in the state because EROS operates largely out of the spotlight—unlike the politicians, the business titans, the athletes, the movie stars, and the other movers and shakers who often end up in the Hall of Fame.

Perhaps that will change now with Loveland’s nomination.

“It’s nice to be recognized this way, and I appreciate it,” he said. “But I think there are a lot of other people out at EROS who certainly could and should be recognized for their incredible contributions, too.”

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